21 December 2023

60 years of the Porsche 911

By Road Runner

It may be hard to believe, but the Porsche 911 is celebrating its 60th birthday. Alongside other unlikely stars turning (or who’ve turned) 60 in 2023 – including Johnny Depp, Michael Jordan, Andrew Ridgely, Lisa Kudrow, and Graham Norton – this beloved and beautiful motor’s looks, talent, and style only improve with age.

Making its debut as the Type 901 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in September 1963, it reimagined and redefined the three ‘e’s’ of cars, combing elegant lines and finishes, with the exhilaration of the drive, and the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of owning one.

Across the last six decades and eight generations of models, the 911 has become synonymous with Porsche, always maintaining a beautiful façade, while always being innovative and impressive within the stable of desirable classic cars. We look back (and even forward) to some of the Porsche 911’s “best bits”.

In the beginning: 1963-72

In its early years the Porsche 911 aim was to redefine what was expected of the sports cars of the day. The laid-back lines and low shape were almost an optical illusion for the air-cooled, six-cylinder rear-mounted engine, and nifty suspension that lay within. The renaming from 901 to 911 within a year was a legal one – Peugeot had the trademark on the number sequences with a zero in the middle. Throughout the sixties, Porsche was swinging with the best of them, bringing both the four-cylinder 912 and 911 Targa to market – the latter with a stainless-steel roll-over bar, which was a great feat in cabriolet safety. Other major innovations in this first decade of production were the three-part steering safety system and front and rear spoilers.

Second generation G-Series: 1973 -1989

The Gen X of the Porsche 911 world was about an all-in improvement without changing the look beyond recognition. Launching in 1974 shortly after the tricky oil crisis of 1973, the 911 G-Series brought additional comfort, a slightly longer length and better bumpers that had superior shock absorption as well as a cool telescopic look. And as we all know, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, upgrades to details here included more comfortable seats, integrated headrests, and automatic seat belts. Then there were the engine improvements; every car from this generation was gifted with a 2.7 litre engine – previously the elite domain of the performance-hungry models, such as the 311 Carrera RS 2.7.

While for many people the Seventies was all a bit hard-going and colourless, the 911 G Series bucked that trend, bringing the disco ball to the road. The 911 Turbo introduced the turbocharger and wide rear end spoiler, and various iterations throughout this decade and the next 196,397 911s were manufactured.

Third generation Porsche 911 (964), 1988–1994

Continuing to move with the times, the Porsche 911 entered its third phase in 1988. This headline-making refresh saw around 85 percent of the parts and fixtures revitalised. The front end emerged looking stronger with a “Come on, I dare you” personality, with the revised sill covers and rain gutters also aiding this more mature exterior. And there was the aerodynamics… with a cd of a mere 0.32, drivers could feel the difference with every move. But there was a sound commercial reason supporting the changes. Porsche was on a mission to attract a wider customer base that would drive it in daily life. Without compromising its reputation for sportiness and elan, more comfort and practical features were introduced, incorporating the brand’s established power steering, ABS, a better heater, central locking, and height-adjustable front seats which could be controlled electronically. And with the Carrera 4, there was another step-change – all-wheel drive that provided the driver with that critical all-conditions road control.

But what made its powerful heart go boom was that impressive engine room. The six-cylinder boxer now boasted dual ignition, knock control and a three-way catalytic converter, plus 3.6 litres of displacement.  As a bonus in terms of the driving capabilities, there was a real spoiler that extended when the car went over 49mph which helped to cool the engine.

Fourth generation: 1993-1998

Spanning a relatively short time span, generation four was the age of the Porsche 993. With its athletic sensibilities combined with devil-may-care additions, this model was all about the sports car – but bang up to date. Reflecting the global mindset of the mid ‘90s, it was lad culture that could afford to shop couture, and mature with a progressive, youthful attitude. Front headlights got flatter, lower, and wider – so less ‘tunnel vision’, while both front and back were given a double dose of elegance and a cleaner slope. Concave aspects artfully clashed with convex features, creating that dual personality that won over a while new legion of Porsche fans.

Fifth generation: 1998-2005

With more generational mutations and cast changes than the Star Trek franchise, in the very last years of the 20th Century the Porsche 911 was also ready to enter “new and unchartered galaxies”. This “next gen” 996 that was released in 1997 gave us the first sports car with water cooling – compatible with the regulatory four-valve cylinder head that matched new exhaust regulations. And while that four-valve stuff may have sounded a bit limiting and legal, it did make it the greener darling of reduced emissions, noise, and consumption. The 996 was also longer, wider, but a little bit lighter (50kgs down on the last model). It could parts-share and was developed in parallel with the Porsche Boxter – handy if needed and a great sea-change for collaborative car manufacturing. But it was vital that the two cars remained separate in both look and feel, so in 2002 there was a mid-cycle face-lift as the 996 received the front headlights of the 911 Turbo, avoiding any mistaken identity.

Sixth generation: 2004-12

Once fully in the Noughties, in 2004 Porsche was ready to give the driving world the 911 Carrera and Carrera S. Curved wings, oval clear-glass front headlights complete with auxiliary lights made it typically 9-11-ish, but extra. There was also a redesigned, active chassis which came with the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) as a standard feature on the Carrera S. Known internally as the 997, it was physically a world apart from its predecessor. Even the noticeably lagging drag was fixed with a trim that swept across the entire underbody. But in terms of that James-Bond-esque gadget “wow” factor, we need to heap praise on the Sport Chrono Plus package that meant at the push of a button, you could change the accelerator pedal’s capabilities, making it the high-performance sports car of dreams.

Seventh generation: 2012-19

Also performing under the alias 991, this series was kept on track for most of the 21st century’s teenage years. Porsche’s guiding – and almost impossible – principle for this model was to prioritise comfort while not foregoing its ability to always be high performing to better and better standards. But in all its sixty years, the Porsche team has never believed in half measures, so along came the 991. Almost every component was reimagined and developed, integrating multi-function screens and superior, digital capabilities (connectivity, real time traffic management) – all part of the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system. “But what about the body and engine stuff?” we hear you cry. In summary a lighter aluminium and steel framework reduced the weight by 80kgs, and there was the first, manual seven-speed gearbox – which really amped up the fun factor. The chassis also underwent redevelopment, and after some chops and changes to the base engine, the bottom line was reduced fuel consumption and engine emissions.

Eighth generation: 2019-present

So, as the Porsche 911 enters its seventh decade and eighth major iteration, both new and devoted drivers will experience enhanced power, greater efficiencies and a plethora of digital gizmos and features on and around the dashboard to salivate over. That includes a 10.9-inch touch screen and very intelligent operating system. And all the while it still manages to tread that perfect line between sports car, exclusivity, and personal-use motor that can still draw sighs of admiration from other motorists and the odd pedestrian. But true to Porsche tradition, there’s the analogue rev counter taking centre stage.

We opened this retrospective by saying that while they’re traditionalists, Porsche is always looking several thousand miles down the road to anticipate the future. That means since 2019, the 911 has been hybrid-capable, while the eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission sports model is constructed to accommodate an electric engine.

Porsche 911, we wish you the happiest of birthdays. May we all look and move as wonderfully as you at the 60 milestone.